Sunday, December 22, 2013

Danica Patrick - Hot

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown by Virginia Woolf

  available at amazon

Brief Biography

Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) was born into a privileged English household, where she was home-educated by her free-thinking parents. Apparently, like many girls of her age she had a happy childhood and adolescence, but as she recounted later, she had been sexually abused when she was six years old.
When her mother died she went into a period of depression, which was aggravated when her sister Stella also died two years later.
Despite her bouts of suffering, for four years she took classes in German, Greek and Latin at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London. It was during this period that she developed her feminist stance.
After some turbulent years of psychological disorders, and after being institutionalized, she committed suicide at the age of 59.

About “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown.”

The essay was written in 1923, and in 1924 it was read to the Heretics, Cambridge. The essay is a polemical piece that attempts to go beyond Arnold Bennett’s thesis that character is the essence of novel writing, and his too easy conclusion as to why the young writers have failed to create credible characters.
Woolf chooses the year 1910 as the year in which a discernible shift in human relations takes place. This point is important to her because to understand what “real” character is, one has to understand the large context—the British society. In this light, she chooses Mrs. Brown as a metaphor for human nature.
Her analysis highlights the shortcomings of previous generations of writers; in particular the Edwardians and the Georgians, concluding that they also failed to create lasting characters. In this regard, history seems to be on Virginia Woolf’s side: while everyone remembers Mrs. Dalloway, no one remembers a single character created by either the Edwardians or the Georgians. What readers remember instead are the physical settings they created with old tools.
To facilitate the flow of ideas, this version of the essay includes section headings and bold typography. Endnotes provide brief outlines and descriptions of the major writers mentioned. The essay is presented, otherwise, as it was first published.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mary Patricia and I--and Portia

Although more than fifty years have gone by, the magic moment that Mary Patricia came into my life is as fresh as the morning dew, as clear as spring water, and yet just as warm as a mild fever. And the magic never fades; it glows even stronger with each passing day.

In my freshman year at Columbia College, with the pressures of final exams upon me, as I looked for a secluded spot to study I found myself in Avery Hall, where the music practice rooms were located. Mozart’s magical music flowed from one of the rooms; it was the adagio of Piano Sonata No. 12.

Of course I learned that bit of information much later, since in those years –at age 17-- I had no idea who Mozart was. Noticing that the pianist was replaying the adagio over and over I sat on the floor right outside the door and listened to it. Two hours later, the budding and determined concert pianist stepped around me, for I was glued to the spot, and gave me a quizzical look.

“I didn’t want to disturb you,” I said. “What is the name of that song you played for two hours?”

“It’s not a song--it's a sonata, and you’ve been here two hours?”

Oh, heavenly bliss! Her voice was even sweeter than the music I had just heard. For an instant, my whole being tingled, and I swear the hair on my neck stood on end. My musical ignorance, my heavy Spanish accent, and my less than imposing appearance must have gained her trust and sympathy, for from that magic moment on Mary Patricia and I became inseparable lifetime sojourners.

Today as we enjoy our golden years, three children on their own, and two grandchildren to lavish love and gifts on, I feel that --free will notwithstanding— the touch of an angel nudges us humans in different directions. When Mary Patricia and I discuss the statistics that more than half of the people who get married end up divorcing, we are seized with infinite sadness. I cannot imagine for one instant life without my beloved partner.

This is a story narrated in first person voice, so I cannot tell you what other people’s feelings, thoughts, and attitudes toward life are. What follows are some of the canons (bringing a token home, consulting your spouse, care for others, being a provider, and God in our lives) that have guided my life in my marriage.

Since friends, relatives, neighbors, and even strangers often ask us "What is the secret?" (referring to our marriage, of course), I usually say, "Love and God." But there's more, which I'd like to share --not as a model to follow-- but as good-intentioned advice.

Because Mary Patricia likes to eat fruit every day, I made it a point to always bring home an apple, bananas, grapes, or cantaloupes. Of course I knew she went to the market and picked her own fruit. My gesture, though, was more spiritual than nutritional—never come home empty handed.

Early in our marriage I learned that Mary Patricia wished to be consulted in all my decisions, no matter how petty or insignificant. So, I made the promise to myself that not only would I consult with her, but I would over consult. Over consult I did. Except for that one time when I impulsively bought her a second piano. Not that she wasn’t appreciative, but she let me know that had she been consulted she would have told me that she was pregnant with our third child and that it was time to save rather than to spend.

“With three children to support and put through Barnard College, you need to earn more money,” she said.

Having already two girls, she was looking forward to a third one. “Why not Columbia College?” I asked, sounding like the ever macho-man from South America.

At that point in my career (30 years ago) I had been promoted to corporate controller and was earning a little under $100,000 a year. To my accountant’s mind, that was a pretty good darn amount. And I considered myself a good provider. Yet hubris overcame my good sense and for a couple of weeks I chewed on the cud of resentment at the implication that I wasn’t earning enough money.

Then one good day, Mary Patricia noticing my moodiness, said, “Money making will come easily to you when you think of those about you—not yourself. Your are at your best when you think of others.”

That did it! I had been thinking of my own wonderful self and not of my loved ones. So I told Mary Patricia I would give up my job and I would become an investment banker. Without hesitation she agreed. That same day she went to the Coliseum Bookstore (Columbus Circle, long gone by now) and purchased all the necessary textbooks for me to study and pass the registered representative exams.

That evening she handed me the books and I handed her a colorful dish of juicy, sweet, diced cantaloupe, honey dew, and water melon--all laced with Merlot. To cap the evening she played for me the Mozart’s adagio that had sent chills up my spine that fated day when I saw her for the first time. What did I see in her then? Did I see the face of an angel, or the face of my mother whom I had left behind to come to this country? God only knows.

Shaped and formed as we are by our surrounding, I believe every man has an ideal image or the blueprint of a perfect woman; in my case Mary Patricia was and is my “imago.” To me she is unmatched not only in beauty and talent, but also in virtue.

Today Mary Patricia no longer plays the piano, for her arthritis has invaded her legs and arms. From her debut at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall to her final concert at Carnegie Hall, I never missed one of her concerts. And like a mail carrier nothing – Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night – stayed me.

Fame and glory fade, but in my heart Mary Patricia’s accomplishments grow and glow stronger with the passing days. With what relish her final concert reverberates in my body, the echoes of the standing ovation and “bravas” filling my soul with joy. The following day, a critic from NY Times, called her reading of Brahms’ Piano Quintet “a boon from God.”

God smiled on Mary Patricia, and that smile spilled over to me, for the good Lord made me an even bigger provider, for my career blossomed and I retired a successful investment banker. We’ve sent our children to Ivy schools, have college funds for the grandchildren, and we live in a grand neighborhood with fine neighbors. Mary Patricia –a child of an old patrician wasp family from Boston-- reassures me that she married up when she married me – “a poor immigrant boy from the Andes.”

Last Sunday after church we went to the street fair on Madison Avenue, not far from where we live on Park Avenue. To tell the truth, I can’t think of a better way to spend a gorgeous glorious afternoon in New York City than at a street fair.

And I pushed Mary Patricia’s wheel chair –-an old fashion chair, for she can’t operate a motorized one-- the whole length of the fair--all twenty blocks.

The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

East of Tiffany's Free stories

For all my students and friends, here are two short stories that you can read for free, from East of Tiffany's. 

After you read them, kindly put a book review in

Blue Babies


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy eating!

Alex Morgan, USA Striker

Alex Morgan is only 24 years old, but already the young U.S. women's national team star has climbed to the top.

Not only is she a feared striker, but she is also a play maker.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

The writing techniques we employ to write our blogs are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:

My Only Anglo Friend: A Thanksgiving Story (From East of Tiffany's)

What I really like about the United States of America is the chances one has to go to school and learn many things. Where I come from —a country in Central America that I won’t name, but you can guess— most people are illiterate, but I went all the way through the third grade and I know how to read and add and subtract in both Spanish and English.

But this story is about Mrs. Poumier —not I— and I want to put it in paper right quick while I still have this sadness that is gnawing at my guts and heart. If I write it out I feel I will get it out of my guts, heart, and mind. And get some peace. It is not that I want to cure myself from this melancholy, nor that I want to lessen my guilt, or much less lay blame on someone—no sir, or madam; not at all. It is that I want to pay my respects to Mrs. Poumier, the only Anglo friend I had in this great country that I love as much as I love my own.

In one bit you’ll see why I am so sad: Mrs. Poumier —my sweet dear friend— died a day after Thanksgiving.

For those who might be wondering how a person like me —with low education and low wits— would dare attempt to write a story, I will say that I read a lot. I’ve read somewhere that Cervantes, the author of Don Quijote —the novel I would rescue from a burning building— also went only to the third grade; but he read every piece of paper that came into his hands. So, that is what I do: read everything! Not only I read at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and other bookstores, but I am familiar with every public library in Manhattan. Reading is my passion. And so was Mrs. Poumier’s. In fact that is how we met. In the summer, during my lunch break, as I sat on the stoop of the building where she lived and read One Hundred Years of Solitude, she floored me when she looked at the title, exclaiming with great relish: “The best novel of the 20th century!” And that was the beginning of our friendship.

Being an orphan I was raised by an aunt and my grandmother. Despite the fact that a number of years have gone by since my grandmother—‘abuelita’ Guadalupe— died, her image is so fixed in my brains that I can say she is very much alive in my mind and heart. When my gramma died she left me a medallion with the image of the ‘Virgencita de Guadalupe.’ Superstitious as I am, I feel that as long as I have this sacred token, nothing bad could happen to me. Because Mrs. Poumier resembled —in looks and spirit— my grandmother, I made it a point of befriending her.

For almost two years I’ve been employed in this catering service on 1st Avenue, near Sutton Place. But just because one mentions Sutton Place doesn’t mean that everyone around here is wealthy. No Sir. In fact, Mrs. Poumier, who lived half a block away from One Sutton Place, was poor—poorer than me! To be blunt, her social security check and a small annuity is all she had left, after her son —a big shot stockbroker— lost her portfolio which he had loaded with Internet stocks. That is what she tells me, but I suspect something more sinister—a dishonest son.

Yet in spite of her poverty she never said anything bad about her children. When her portfolio of stocks, bonds, and other securities was managed by Merrill Lynch, she did well and was able to send her son to Harvard Business School, and her daughter to Columbia Law School. Joy and pride would spark in her eyes when she spoke of her children. One day she intimated to me that most of her income went to pay for her rent and that she had very little left for other things, including food. “Not that I am a miser,” she said to me. “It is just that I have to watch every penny.” Yet, she would go meal-less for a day or two so that she could buy the NY Sunday Times. “That’s something I cannot do without—onerous as it might be!” she told me once.

I loved to listen to her. I loved the cadence in her voice; in her voice I found a refined diction; in the diction elegance, an elegance that revealed nobility, and in that nobility the milk of human kindness that more than kindness was love for neighbor. “We girls had to practice good diction,” she told me once. “I went to Mount Holyoke College, you know,” she mentioned once. And I could see in her bright eyes that those might have been the best years of her life.

To reciprocate her goodwill one fine day I gave her my ‘Virgencita de Guadalupe’ medallion. “Nothing bad will happen to you as long as you keep this,” I explained to her. Knowing about Mrs. Poumier’s thin budget, I spoke to Sadeek, the attendant in the candy store two doors down from where I work, and he agreed to sell me the blessed newspaper at half-price. When I told him it was for Mrs. Poumier, he reduced the price to one dollar. And we cooked up a plausible story to tell her. That Sunday when she came to buy the paper Sadeek told her that if she came back at 12 noon, she could buy the paper for only $1, since by then all the customers had picked up their copies and the leftovers could be sold at a lower price. He would set it aside for her. Of course Sadeek asked her to keep mum about that or he would be in trouble with other customers.

Where I work we prepare gourmet food, which we sell for the most outrageous prices. Emiliano, the first cook, fixes this ‘arroz con pollo” —listed in the menu as ‘poulet de la maison du roi’— which we sell for $29 a meal. Go figure. And people from Park Avenue to Sutton place call us for the delicacy which to tell the truth costs less than a dollar to prepare. And if you throw in the labor (minimum wage, no benefits), rent, and overhead, you can add another dollar. Nice business. Nifty profits. The owner of the establishment, an immigrant from Romania, is a good man; very strict, a little humorless, but kind-hearted. Because I speak English better than he does, he lets me handle the customers, the fax, e-mail, and telephone orders. And in the afternoon and evenings I deliver the orders of Emiliano’s exquisite dishes. I don’t want to digress but I must say that Emiliano was born to cook. Our wealthy customers —many of them celebrities I recognize— can’t get enough of his creations. Yet, the man can barely read and write and never uses written recipes!

When any of the machines —ovens, freezers, refrigerators, cash register, coffee and espresso machines, and other objects— breaks down, I fix it. No machine has been invented that I cannot fix. So, the man is happy with me. As a result he only comes a few hours a day, but mainly to balance the receipts for the day and to do some bookkeeping. During my lunch hour I would bring Mrs. Poumier a full meal of the special of the day. Nothing —that is absolutely nothing— in my life gave me more pleasure than to see Mrs. Poumier enjoy her meals—all for free. For her birthday (late August) I swiped a bottle from the cellar of a $40 white wine, and we all —I brought Emiliano and Sadeek with me— had a few glasses. How glorious she looked that day: her delicate features glowed with happiness when we sang the ‘happy birthday’ song.

Once in a while a pang of morals would jolt me and tell me that I might be stealing from my employer; but I would quickly counter the pang with the thought that just fixing one freezer I save the establishment two or three hundred dollars, and if you multiply this for six to eight times a month, you can well see that $2 (cost of the meal) will not set my patron back that much.

Ah, humanity and inhumanity!

One sad day, Mrs. Poumier told me that I should not bring her any more meals because her daughter —a partner in a premier law firm— had come to visit her and told her to stop spending her money in extravagant meals. “I know the prices these people charge,” she had yelled at her. Not only had she yelled at her, but she had threatened to sue us — my catering place— for taking advantage of a poor senile defenseless old woman. The nerve of those people! Furthermore, she had threatened to put her in a home.

Fearful that I might lose my job I told Emiliano not to fix the meals for Mrs. Poumier anymore. For many days I felt despondent and hard as I tried to understand where I had gone wrong—I could not. During the month of October and November I saw Mrs. Poumier around the neighborhood a few times; she looked unkempt, the spark of vivacity in her eyes gone; gone also was the lilt and sweetness of her voice. Knowing how much I cared for the sweet lady, that Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, my friend Plutarco —the doorman— came running to tell me that my good friend had collapsed in the lobby; that the paramedics had pronounced her dead. “This lady is way undernourished—skin and bones!” the paramedic had exclaimed.

As Plutarco gave me the sad news, he also gave me my “Virgencita the Guadalupe’ medallion, which Mrs. Poumier had dropped when she collapsed. Plutarco knows I am a man not given to tears, but that day he saw me cry my eyes out; even Sadeek came out of the store and sat next to me and tried to console me. More than tears for the loss of my good friend, I raged at my suspicion that Mrs. Poumier had not wished to die the day before and spoil Thanksgiving Day for her son and daughter and grandchildren; the two families own houses in Long Island.

Uncared and unloved by both son and daughter, she’s now with my Virgencita de Guadalupe who will give her all the love that she didn’t have here on this harsh concrete and asphalt shore that is Manhattan. Nothing bad will happen to her there—really.

The writing techniques I use in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual--an indispensable guide:

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Literature as a Transformative Force

"Lev Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana", 19...Image via Wikipedia
While critics, philosophers, writers, and theorists debate what 'literature' is, I will simply assume that it exists and that is has many functions.

For this article I am concerning myself with literature not as a science, nor an art, much less a discipline, but as a trans-formative force in human affairs—the power to change people.

To narrow the discussion, I hold that literature must own the power to bring about change. That doesn't mean that it must force people into specific ideologies or set behaviors. Not at all. Neither force nor coercion must enter the equation. When you think about it, change in our lives comes about because we become aware that something needs to be changed.

Once we present to our consciousness an 'it' that needs change—we change! And that is the force of literature: it presents themes, topics, events, and situations to a reader's consciousness.

Literary authors and popular authors, select the material they choose to present not because that material will entertain the reader for a while, but because such material is a crucial lesson to the characters' lives and indirectly to the reader. And therein rests the value of literature.

Not only from the fountain of daily life do readers draw lessons, but also from fiction.

While politicians, kings, philosophers, and military leaders influence people directly, literary writers do it indirectly; yet they --writers-- cast even a wider net. How many people read Napoleon's Memoirs today? Yet generations upon generations go on reading Stendhal's The Red and the Black and not the Memoirs. What possible lessons, some may ask, have novels such as Ana Karenina, Madame Bovary, and the Scarlet Letter? Why would Tolstoy, Flaubert, and Hawthorne bother to present readers with the age-old problem of adultery?

Tolerance is the answer. By making readers aware of the depths of passion that the human heart harbors, such violence of emotions will linger in our consciousness and see that while some humans are weak in spirit others are strong, yet weak in forgiveness.

By immersing ourselves in the range of passions that we find in the novels mentioned, we learn, we learn tolerance, we learn to be compassionate—we change for the good; that is, for truth, beauty, and goodness.

From Ana Karenina we learn the shock, turmoil, suffering, human disaster, those conflicting passions (that engulf the human heart and mind) that beset characters and readers. In Ana Karenina we learn about the intimacy of a conjugal showdown, as when Ana confronts her husband: "I listen to you and think about him. I love him, I am his mistress, I cannot stay you, I am afraid of you, I hate you ... Do what you like with me."

From Emma Bovary we learn of the unquenchable thirst that even an absurd romanticism and sordid affairs cannot placate: "But who was it that made her so unhappy? Where was the extraordinary catastrophe that overwhelmed her?"

And from Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter we learn of the darkness and light, love and hatred, implacable revenge and redemption that move us in our daily lives: "Hester Prynne will be a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone."

By presenting the theme of adultery, the authors simply advance the theme for the reader to ponder about such human weakness that destroys many marriages. And this is the transformative power of literature. Readers will bring their own experiences to the novel and will present it to their consciousness where it will linger and perhaps make them change for the good.

Senada Selmani, model

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Become a Writer: Marciano Guerrero (Part 1 of 20)

Most autobiographical articles begin with the trite “I was born” phrase and move linearly to recount a series of small details that could only be of interest to the biographer or his closest relatives. Not wishing to follow tradition, the series of autobiographical articles I want to publish in my blog, will begin with the present and work its way back to the day I was born.

So, do not for a moment expect linearity —either forward or backward— but fragmented time as I free-write what I think is important for my readers.

Writing will be my focus. That is, how I am becoming a writer; although after more than 500 articles, 3 fiction books, and textbooks, I could say—how I became a writer. Along the way, my readers will find the salient points of my education as they are relevant to writing.

My first guiding rule to become a writer has always been: write every day. Notice that I say “my” first guiding rule. Others will have different rules or no rules at all and yet they still become writers nevertheless.

"Writing to Live": When you think about it, these carefully chosen words capture what I think is a yearning that is like oxygen to the human body; without writing —a person like me and other kindred spirits— will suffocate. Some of us need to express ourselves to justify our existences; some of us must write to live, to go on living.

Once I read an essay by the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes in which he equated living with writing and not writing with death. These are his exact words: “You start by writing to live. You end by writing so as to die.” Fuentes’ aphorism became a truism to me—Writing to live.

Whether you believe in determinism or not, I think some of our childhood remembrances determine what we are one day to become. In my case, my parents' library has been the most resonant and vivid image that has accompanied me throughout my long years. Not only can I recall the location of the shelves, the leather furniture, the classification of the books, the tobacco smell, the dusty grainy volumes, the piles of strewn magazines, and the oak rustic table where the huge dictionary stood next to a celestial sphere, but also the lighting: the location of the lamps, and the location of the windows.

My father, a landowner, gentleman of leisure, and a political animal, would often talk to me about books, about the different genres, and in particular about writing. With what relish I recall his earnest lectures about writing. “Be clear,” he would always admonish me. “This sentence is too long,” he would say at time; at other times: “Too choppy.”

Not knowing what constituted either a long or a brief sentence, and how to measure it, I would continue to make the same mistakes. Anticipating my quizzical look, one day, he asked me to copy a sentence from one of Henry James’ novel (in translation), and one from the Bible. While I have forgotten the Henry James sentence, I still recall the Biblical sentence: “Jesus wept.” By making his point with those two adroit examples, the light of understanding dawned on my young mind and have watched the length of my sentences from then on. 

Later, when I was an undergraduate at Columbia University, I would air-mail to him copies of my essays, which he would promptly correct and make suggestions. Having studied in England and Germany, he knew English and German very well. One doesn't become a writer overnight--it is a lifetime endeavor.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Toolbox for Writers.

La Dame Aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas (Fils)

Available in amazon


Introduction by Marciano Guerrero

Brief Bio

Alexandre Dumas fils (1824–1895) was a French writer and dramatist. He was the son of Alexandre Dumas, père, also a major novelist and playwright.
Dumas was born in Paris, France, the illegitimate child of Marie-Laure-Catherine Labay, a dressmaker and novelist Alexandre Dumas. When he was seven years old Dumas (father) legally recognized his son, ensuring that the young Dumas could be helped financially and thus receive a good education.
Despite the legal recognition, in boarding schools, Dumas fils was cruelly taunted by his classmates, a situation that profoundly affected his thoughts, behavior, and writing.
Dumas’ paternal great-grandparents were a French nobleman and Général commissaire in the Artillery in Haiti and Marie-Cesette Dumas, an Afro-Caribbean Creole of mixed French and African ancestry.
During 1844 Dumas met Marie Duplessis, a Young courtesan who supposedly was the inspiration for his novel The Lady of the Camellias (La Dame aux camélias). Of course the heroine’s name was changed to Marguerite Gautier.
The novel was later adapted into a play, and it was titled Camille in English. This same play became the basis for Verdi’s opera, La Traviata. In this opera Duplessis undergoes another name change to Violetta Valery.

About the Novel La Dame aux camélias

The novel begins with the narrator focusing on an apartment sale in Paris, in which he innocently buys a famous book: Manon Lescaut, after he reads a curious inscription by Armand Duval. This not so innocent book links the tale’s lover to the actual person who will eventually tell the story.
Part of the allure of the novel lies in its description of minute details about the life of the notorious courtesan Marguerite Gautier: parties, theater life, lovers’ arrangements, life on the speed lane—all in graphic detail, to include not only the violent expectorations of the consumptive courtesan, but also the exhumation of  her decayed body.
Dazzled by the heroine’s beauty, Armando Duval blindly falls in love with the ailing Marguerite, who perhaps foreseeing a short life loosely spends her patron’s fortunes with reckless abandon. As the most beautiful kept woman of her time in Paris, she has no shortage of rich lovers who compete to foot the bills for her extravagant life style.  
Yet Armand, a young man from the provinces, with meager income, convinces her of his love, succeeding in making Marguerite his lover. An idyllic period ensues away from Paris, in the French country side, where the couple conquers a temporary happiness.
Temporary indeed, for that presages a most tragic end, an end which rather than a moral lesson the novel opens unanswerable questions as to innocence and guilt, family and society, givers versus takers, good versus evil—life and death.
Although the intrigues, overall plot, and denouement may be easy to guess, the narrating voices hold the story in complete suspense to the bitter end. The acts of both, helpers and principals, advance relentlessly as told by four different narrators: an unnamed voice (presumably the author’s), Armand Duval, Marguerite Gautier, and Juliet Duprat (a friend).
La Dame aux camellias is a timeless story that will continue to captivate readers for many generations to come.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thinking for Oneself
November 12, 2013
Over the last year there has been a steady stream of articles about the “crisis in the humanities,” fostering a sense that students are stampeding from liberal education toward more vocationally oriented studies. In fact, the decline in humanities enrollments, as some have pointed out, is wildly overstated, and much of that decline occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. Still, the press is filled with tales about parents riding herd on their offspring lest they be attracted to literature or history rather than to courses that teach them to develop new apps for the next, smarter phone.
America has long been ambivalent about learning for its own sake, at times investing heavily in free inquiry and lifelong learning, and at other times worrying that we need more specialized training to be economically competitive. A century ago these worries were intense, and then, as now, pundits talked about a flight from the humanities toward the hard sciences.
Liberal education was a core American value in the first half of the 20th century, but a value under enormous pressure from demographic expansion and the development of more consistent public schooling. The increase in the population considering postsecondary education was dramatic. In 1910 only 9 percent of students received a high school diploma; by 1940 it was 50 percent. For the great majority of those who went on to college, that education would be primarily vocational, whether in agriculture, business, or the mechanical arts. But even vocationally oriented programs usually included a liberal curriculum -- a curriculum that would provide an educational base on which one could continue to learn -- rather than just skills for the next job. Still, there were some then (as now) who worried that the lower classes were getting “too much education.”
Within the academy, between the World Wars, the sciences assumed greater and greater importance. Discoveries in physics, chemistry, and biology did not seem to depend on the moral, political, or cultural education of the researchers – specialization seemed to trump broad humanistic learning. These discoveries had a powerful impact on industry, the military, and health care; they created jobs! Specialized scientific research at universities produced tangible results, and its methodologies – especially rigorous experimentation – could be exported to transform private industry and the public sphere. Science was seen to be racing into the future, and some questioned whether the traditional ideas of liberal learning were merely archaic vestiges of a mode of education that should be left behind.
In reaction to this ascendancy of the sciences, many literature departments reimagined themselves as realms of value and heightened subjectivity, as opposed to so-called value-free, objective work. These “new humanists” of the 1920s portrayed the study of literature as an antidote to the spiritual vacuum left by hyperspecialization. They saw the study of literature as leading to a greater appreciation of cultural significance and a personal search for meaning, and these notions quickly spilled over into other areas of humanistic study. Historians and philosophers emphasized the synthetic dimensions of their endeavors, pointing out how they were able to bring ideas and facts together to help students create meaning. And arts instruction was reimagined as part of the development of a student’s ability to explore great works that expressed the highest values of a civilization. Artists were brought to campuses to inspire students rather than to teach them the nuances of their craft. During this interwar period a liberal education surely included the sciences, but many educators insisted that it not be reduced to them. The critical development of values and meaning was a core function of education.
Thus, despite the pressures of social change and of the compelling results of specialized scientific research, there remained strong support for the notion that liberal education and learning for its own sake were essential for an educated citizenry. And rather than restrict a nonvocational education to established elites, many saw this broad teaching as a vehicle for ensuring commonality in a country of immigrants. Free inquiry would model basic democratic values, and young people would be socialized to American civil society by learning to think for themselves.
By the 1930s, an era in which ideological indoctrination and fanaticism were recognized as antithetical to American civil society, liberal education was acclaimed as key to the development of free citizens. Totalitarian regimes embraced technological development, but they could not tolerate the free discussion that led to a critical appraisal of civic values. Here is the president of Harvard, James Bryant Conant, speaking to undergraduates just two years after Hitler had come to power in Germany:

To my mind, one of the most important aspects of a college education is that it provides a vigorous stimulus to independent thinking.... The desire to know more about the different sides of a question, a craving to understand something of the opinions of other peoples and other times mark the educated man. Education should not put the mind in a straitjacket of conventional formulas but should provide it with the nourishment on which it may unceasingly expand and grow. Think for yourselves! Absorb knowledge wherever possible and listen to the opinions of those more experienced than yourself, but don’t let any one do your thinking for you.

This was the 1930s version of liberal learning, and in it you can hear echoes of Thomas Jefferson’s idea of autonomy and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s thoughts on self-reliance.
In the interwar period the emphasis on science did not, in fact, lead to a rejection of broad humanistic education. Science was a facet of this education. Today, we must not let our embrace of STEM fields undermine our well-founded faith in the capacity of the humanities to help us resist “the straitjackets of conventional formulas.” Our independence, our freedom, has depended on not letting anyone else do our thinking for us. And that has demanded learning for its own sake; it has demanded a liberal education. It still does.


Michael Roth is president of Wesleyan University. His new book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, will be published next year by Yale University Press. His Twitter handle is @mroth78

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thomas Mann on Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (Anna Karina) (Part 1 of 3)

TODAY high tide is at ten. The waters rush up the narrowing strand, carrying foam-bubbles and jelly-fish - primitive children of an unnatural mother, who will abandon them on the sands to death by evaporation. The waves run up, almost to the foot of my beach ­chair; sometimes I must lift away my plaid-wrapped legs as the waters encroach and threaten to cover them. My heart responds blithely, though also with utter respect, to these sportive little tricks the mighty ocean plays me; my sympathy, a deep and tender, primitive, soul-extending stirring, is far indeed from any annoyance.
No bathers yet. They await the midday warmth to wade out into the ebbing tide, little flutters and shrieks escaping them as they begin their pert yet fearful toying with the vast. Coast-guards in cork jackets, lynx-eyed, tooting their horns, watch over all this amateurish frivolity. My "workshop" here surpasses any I know. It is lonely; but even were it livelier, the tumultuous surf so shuts me in, and the sides of my admirable beach-chair, seat and cabin in one, familiar from my youth up, is so peculiarly protective that there can be no distraction. Beloved, incomparably soothing and suitable situation - it recurs in my life again and again, as by a law. Beneath a sky where gently shifting continents of cloud link the blue depths, rolls the sea, a darkening green against the clear hori­zon, oncoming in seven or eight foaming white rows of surf that reach out of sight in both directions. There is superb activity far­ther out, where the advancing waves hurl themselves first and highest against the bar. The bottle-green wall gleams metallic as it mounts and halts and curls over, then shatters with a roar and an explosion of foam down, down, in ever recurrent crash, whose dull thunder forms the deep ground-bass to the higher key of the boil­ing and hissing waves as they break nearer in. Never does the eye tire of this sight nor the ear of this music.
A more fitting spot could not be for my purpose: which is to re­call and to reflect upon the great book whose title stands at the head of my paper. And here by the sea there comes to mind inevi­tably an old, I might almost say an innate association of ideas: the spiritual identity of two elementary experiences, one of which is a parable of the other. I mean the ocean and the epic. The epic, with its rolling breadth, its breath of the beginnings and the roots of life, its broad and sweeping rhythm, its all-consuming monot­ony - how like it is to the sea, how like to it is the sea! It is the Homeric element I mean, the story going on and on, art and nature at once, naive, magnificent, material, objective, immortally healthy, immortally realistic! All this was strong in Tolstoy, stronger than in any other modern creator of epic art; it distinguishes his genius, if not in rank, yet in essence, from the morbid manifestation, the ecstatic and highly distorted phenomenon, that was Dostoyevsky. Tolstoy himself said of his early work Childhood and Boyhood: "Without false modesty, it is something like the Iliad." That is the merest statement of fact; only on exterior grounds does it fit still better the giant work of his maturity, War and Peace. It fits every­thing he wrote. The pure narrative power of his work is un­equalled. Every contact with it, even when he wished no longer to be an artist, when he scorned and reviled art and only employed it as a means of communicating moral lessons; every contact with it, I say, rewards the talent that knows how to receive (for there is no other) with rich streams of power and refreshment, of creative primeval lustiness and health. Seldom did art work so much like nature; its immediate, natural power is only another manifestation of nature itself; and to read him again, to be played upon by the animal keenness of this eye, the sheer power of this creative at­tack, the entirely clear and true greatness, unclouded by any mys­ticism, of this epic, is to find one's way home, safe from every danger of affectation and morbid trifling; home to originality and health, to everything within us that is fundamental and sane.
Turgenyev once said: "We have all come out from under Go­gol's Mantle" - a fiendishly clever pun which puts in a phrase the extraordinary uniformity and unity, the thick traditionalism of Russian literature as a whole. Actually, they are all there simul­taneously, its masters and geniuses, they can put out their hands to each other, their life-spans in great part overlap. Nikolai Gogol read aloud some of Dead Souls to the great Pushkin, and the author of Yevgeny Onyegin shook with laughter - and then suddenly grew sad. Lermontov was the contemporary of both. Turgenyev, as one may easily forget, for his frame, like Dostoyevsky s, Lies­kov's, and Tolstoy's, belongs to the second half of the nineteenth century, came only four years later than Lermontov into the world and ten before Tolstoy, whom he adjured in a touching letter ex­pressing his faith in humanistic art, "to go back to literature." What I mean by thick traditionalism is illustrated by an anecdote that most significantly connects Tolstoy's artistically finest work, Anna Karenina, with Pushkin.
One evening in the spring of 1873, Count Leo Nikolayevich en­tered the room of his eldest son, who was reading aloud to his old aunt Pushkin's Stories of Byelkin; the father took the book and read: "The guests assembled in the country house." "That's the way to begin," he said; went into his study and wrote: "In the Oblonsky house great confusion reigned." That was the original first sentence from Anna Karenina. The present beginning, the apercu: about happy and unhappy families, was introduced later. That is a marvelously pretty little anecdote. He had already begun much and brought much to triumphant conclusion. He was the feted creator of the Russian national epos, in the form of a modem novel, the giant panorama War and Peace. And he was about to excel both formally and artistically this chef-d'eeuvre of his thirty-­five years in the work he had now in hand, which one may with an easy mind pronounce the greatest society novel of world literature. And here he was, restlessly prowling about the house, searching, searching, not knowing how to begin. Pushkin taught him, tradi­tion taught him, Pushkin the classic master, from whose world his own was so remote, both personally and generally speaking. Push­kin rescued him, as he hesitated on the brink; showed him how one sets to, takes a firm grip, and plumps the reader in medias res. Unity is achieved, the continuity of that astonishing family of intellects which one calls Russian literature is preserved in this little piece of historical evidence.
Merezhkovsky points out that historically and pre-modernly only Pushkin among these writers really possesses charm. He in­habits a sphere by himself, a sensuously radiant, naive, and blithely poetic one. But with Gogol there begins what Merezhkovsky calls critique: "the transition from unconscious creation to creative consciousness"; for him that means the end of poetry in the Push­kin sense, but at the same time the beginning of something new. The remark is true and perceptive. Thus did Heine speak of the age of Goethe, an aesthetic age, an epoch of art, an objective-ironic point of view. Its representative and dominant figure had been the Olympian; it died with his death. What then began was a time of taking sides, of conflicting opinions, of social consolidation, yes, of politics and, in short, of morals – a morality that branded as frivolous every purely aesthetic and universal point of view.
In Heine's comments, as in Merezhkovsky's, there is feeling for temporal change, together with feeling for its opposite, the time­less and perpetual. Schiller, in his immortal essay, reduced it to the formula of the sentimental and the naive. What Merezhkovsky calls “critique” or “creative consciousness,” what seems to him like contrast with the unconscious creation of Pushkin, as the more modern element, the future on the way, is precisely what Schiller means by the sentimental in contrast to the naive. He too brings in the temporal, the evolutional, and - "pro domo," as we know­declares the sentimental, the creativeness of conscious critique, in short the moralistic, to be the newer, more modern stage of de­velopment.
There are now two things to say: first, Tolstoy's original con­victions were definitely on the side of the aesthetic, of pure art, the objectively shaping, anti-moralistic principle; and second, in him took place that very cultural and historical change which Merezh­kovsky speaks of, that move away from Pushkin's simplicity to­wards critical responsibility and morality. Within his own being it took such a radical and tragic form that he went through the severest crises and much anguish and even so could not utterly repudiate his own mighty creativeness. What he finally arrived at was a rejection and negation of art itself as an idle, voluptuous, and immoral luxury, admissible only in order to make moral teachings acceptable to men, even though dressed in the mantle of art.
But to return to the first position: we have his own unequivocal declarations to the effect that a purely artistic gift stands higher than one with social significance. In 1859, when he was thirty-one years old, he gave, as a member of the Moscow society of Friends of Russian Literature, an address in which he so sharply empha­sized the advantages of the purely art element in literature over all the fashions of the day that the president of the society, Kho­myakov, felt constrained to rejoin that a servant of pure art might quite easily become a social reformer even without knowing or willing it. Contemporary criticism saw in the author of Anna Karenina the protagonist of the art for art's sake position, the rep­resentative of free creativeness apart from all tendentiousness or doctrine. Indeed, it considered this naturalism the characteristi­cally new thing; the public must in time grow up to it, though at present they had got used, in the works of others, to the pres­entation of political and social ideas in the form of art. In point of fact, all this was only one side of the business. As an artist and son of his time, the nineteenth century, Tolstoy was a naturalist, and in this connection he represented - in the sense of a trend - the new. But as an intellectual he was beyond (or rather, he struggled amid torments to arrive beyond) the new, to something further still, on the other side of his, the naturalistic century. He was reach­ing after conceptions of art which approached much nearer to "mind" (Geist), to knowledge, to "critique" than to nature. The commentators of 1875, impressed by the first chapters of Anna Karenina as they appeared in a Russian magazine, the Messenger, seeking benevolently to prepare the way with the public for the naturalism of the work, did not dream that the author was in full flight towards an anti-art position, which was already hampering his work on his masterpiece and even endangering its completion.
This development was to go very far, the vehemence of its con­sistency shrank from nothing: neither from the anti-cultural nor even from the absurd. Before long, he was to regret in public hav­ing written Childhood and Youth, the work of his freshest youth­ful hours - so poor, so insincere, so literary, so sinful was this book. He was to condemn root and branch the "artist twaddle" with which the twelve volumes of his works were filled, to which "the people of our day ascribe an undeserved significance." It was the same undeserved significance that they ascribed to art itself _ for instance, to Shakespeare's plays. He went so far - one must set it down with respect and a sober face, or at least with the small­est, most non-committal smile - as to put Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, far above Shakespeare.
We must be at pains to understand this. Tolstoy's hatred for Shakespeare dated from much earlier than is usually supposed. It signified rebellion against nature, the universal, the all-affirming. It was jealousy of the morally tormented for the irony of the abso­lute creator, it meant the straining away from nature, naïveté, moral indifference, towards "Geist" in the moralistically critical sense of the word; towards moral valuations and edifying doctrine. Tolstoy hated himself in Shakespeare, hated his own vital bearish strength, which was originally like Shakespeare's, natural and crea­tively a-moral; though his struggles for the good, the true and right, the meaning of life, the doctrine of salvation, were after all only the same thing in another and self-denying form. The immen­sity of his writings sometimes resulted in a gigantic clumsiness which forces a respectful smile. And yet it is precisely the para­doxically ascetic application of a titanic helplessness arising from a primeval force that, viewed as art, gives his work that huge moral élan, that Atlas-like moral muscle-tensing and flexing which re­minds one of the agonized figures of Michelangelo's sculpture.
I said that Tolstoy's hatred of Shakespeare belongs to an earlier period than is generally thought. But all that which later made his friends and admirers like Turgenyev weep, his denial of art and cul­ture, his radical moralism, his highly questionable pose of prophet and confessor in his last period - all that begins much further back, it is quite wrong to imagine this process as something suddenly oc­curring in a crisis of conversion in later life, coincident with Tol­toy's old age. The same kind of mistake occurs in the popular opinion that Richard Wagner suddenly got religion-whereas the matter was one of a development vastly and fatally consistent and inevitable, the direction of which is clearly and unmistakably trace­able in The Flying Dutchman and in Tannhauser. The judgment of the Frenchman, Vogue, was entirely correct when, on the news that the great Russian writer was now "as though paralyzed by a sort of mystic madness," Vogue declared that he had long ago seen it coming. The course of Tolstoy's intellectual development had been present in the seed in Childhood and Boyhood and the psychology of Levin in Anna Karenina had marked out the path it would take.